In the campaign for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas, Democrat Raj Goyle criticizes leading opponent Republican Mike Pompeo for accepting economic development incentives while opposing their existence.
A Goyle press release reads: “Already a known outsourcer, Pompeo, in an act of hypocrisy, took government incentivized aid for three of his companies, including Sunflower, Thayer and Sentry. He did this despite repeatedly denouncing government assistance in the private sector.”
This criticism — that those who oppose government programs nonetheless hypocritically take advantage of them — is an important topic to examine, not only as a campaign issue, but because the conflict that leads to this form of criticism arises often. It’s something that libertarians struggle with daily — and I don’t think Mike Pompeo would describe himself as libertarian.
In an article examining whether presidential candidate Ron Paul should accept federal matching campaign funds, the libertarian scholar Walter Block described the pervasiveness of government and the impossibility of escaping it:
For the modern state is so involved in the lives of its citizens that it is the rare individual who does not accept some form of government largesse, whether in the form of money payments, services, or goods of one type or another.
For example, while not everyone goes to a public school or teaches there, it is the rare individual who does not: walk on statist sidewalks, drive on public roads, carry currency in his pocket, avail himself of the services of governmental libraries, museums, parks, stadiums, etc. Which of us has not entered the premises of the motor vehicle bureau, sued someone in court, posted a letter, attempted to attain a passport, or interacted with government in any of the thousand and one other ways it touches upon our lives?
This hints at part of the conflict — angst even — that libertarians digest internally as we go about our business in a world dominated by government. I, for example, firmly believe that we would be better off with private ownership of the streets and highways. Each time I drive my car from my driveway onto the government street in front of my house, I think of this. I get it. I understand the conflict that government thrusts on me. It bothers me daily.
But there’s no other way for me to get to where I want to go. I’m consoled somewhat by the fact that the motor fuel taxes I paid go to building and maintaining the roads. This doesn’t mean, however, that I agree that our system of primarily government ownership of streets and highways is the best system. But it’s the system I am forced to live with, and I try to change it.
Business firms are generally aware, although not always, of government incentives available for economic development. These incentives are part of the economic and political landscape that business firms face. They have to be recognized and dealt with, just like any other factor such as regulation. If business firm “A” decides not to accept incentives and subsidies when firm “B” does, is this wise, even if accepting subsidy is against the principles of firm “A”?
I would recommend firm “A” to apply for and accept the subsidy. For one thing, if firm “A” is a public corporation and doesn’t pursue these incentives when they are available, the company is likely to be sued by its shareholders.
Second, these subsidies are part of the competitive landscape. Even though from a libertarian and conservative view they are wrong and harmful, they still exist. It does no good for a firm to pretend they don’t exist and thereby create a competitive disadvantage for itself. This is especially the case if firms “A” and “B” are direct competitors in the same industry. But even if they are not, these two firms still compete in the same markets for land, labor, capital, and other generic factors.
Third, firm “A,” like all of us, is paying for these incentives and subsidies. While this may seem like conceding to the power of the state, firm “A” might as well get some back of what it paid for.
So yes, business firms need to use government incentives and subsidies. At the same time, we need to work for the elimination of these programs. This is difficult, as the more government becomes involved in management and direction of the economy, it becomes harder to get government to stop. We see this in play at Wichita city hall, as more and more firms ask the city council for various forms of assistance or corporate welfare.
The fight is important, too. The factors that made our country and its economy great are at peril. Gary North wrote in The Snare of Government Subsidies: “… those within the government possess an extremely potent device for expanding political power. By a comprehensive program of direct political intervention into the market, government officials can steadily reduce the opposition of businessmen to the transformation of the market into a bureaucratic, regulated, and even centrally-directed organization. Bureaucracy replaces entrepreneurship as the principal form of economic planning.”
Returning to the politics of the day: Isn’t is a little strange to hear Goyle, who favors expansion of public-private partnerships, criticize those who use them, even if they are opposed to the idea in principle? Doesn’t Goyle want everyone to be in “the snare” that North describes?